Her son, Asean Johnson, made an impassioned speech last year to save his school, Chicago’s Garvey Elementary, that went viral on YouTube. This week, the third-grader was one of two Garvey students who opted out of state testing, choosing instead to read Howard Zinn’s “A Young People’s History of the United States” in the school office.
Reynolds also has opinions about “Chicagoland,” CNN’s eight-part series debuting tonight that features the fight against public school closings which shone a light on her orating son and led CNN camera crews to follow their family around on and off for months.
She’s excited and hopeful, although after watching an early screening of the first episode Tuesday along with friends who were also included in the film, she’s skeptical.
“I think it’s staying pretty lukewarm, from what I found in the first episode,” she said Thursday afternoon. “It seems like it’s going to tell both sides of the story but stay middle-ground.”
The first episode showed a clip her son making the speech in defense of Garvey Elementary, she said, but she’s not sure if it will be able to capture the monthslong fight that led to his speech. The way, for example, that Asean suggested a rally and going door-to-door as part of a campaign to keep his school open.
“Did it show our dedication and hard work to get there? Did it show how we hosted rallies and meetings in our communities?” Reynolds said. “Asean’s speech was just icing on the cake.”
Her 10-year-old son, she said, will not be staying up to watch the show tonight, not out of protest, she said, but because he has to get up at 5:30 a.m. Friday, to go to school.
“I can’t let him stay up ’til 10,” she said. “He would not be a happy camper tomorrow at school.”
Reynolds thinks Asean will come across as a regular kid, who has to be reminded to brush his hair, but whose words struck a chord on YouTube. She hopes that the next seven episodes shine light on what she says are the many areas forgotten by people who think of Chicago as either downtown or the “really bad neighborhoods,” she said. At least it will be better than shows like “Chicago P.D.,” she said, where the only thing she recognizes are the city’s major landmarks and the uniforms of the police officers.That makes her family’s inclusion in the show important and worthwhile, she said.
“It was eerie to have someone follow you around,” she said, “But more so I knew it was going to be featuring Chicago, and I know my family is like your everyday single-parent family, you know? And that needed, I felt that it needed to be shown.
“Hopefully ‘the people’ will have a voice in the documentary.”